Category: gardening

Mimosas, Texas Sage and Garden Musings

This morning I stepped into the thick sauna of the backyard garden to steep for a moment in the semi-tropical paradise my boyfriend has planted in his slice of Texas heaven. He is planning to put in another mimosa tree next to the patio, which will be so lovely.

mimosa

The mimosa flowers are brightly colored

The one we already have is something I enjoy simply staring at with its fluffy pink flowers and green fronds. It’s been raining here for weeks, spurring full-throated chortles after dark from happy toads and frogs. After a full day, watching a rosy sunset and then nightfall drop over a big palm in the distance always calms me. The garden soothes me at any time of day: with morning coffee, under the full sun (but not too long), and especially as the lazy rays of late afternoon take their dance before the onset of twilight. I’m not Southern, but I love living in the South/Texas (the latter being its own category). I love warm winters, the food, the expressions, the friendliness (yes, Northerners are friendly too, with different accents). I love the plants: hibiscus, dogwood, Texas sage, mimosas, bougainvillea, etc. When I was a kid, visiting my paternal grandparents in South Carolina was such an adventure because they had alligators, Spanish moss, cypress trees and palms as well as grits and, of course, a stack of Southern Living magazines. Now, I have lived in southeastern Texas for 10 years and it love its lushness. Well, it has been rather lush due to a rainy spring. A few years ago, we endured a drought, which inspired the planting of many drought-tolerant, native plants. The local fauna and flora are very different from the hardwoods and mammals of my New Jersey youth. Here we regularly see armadillo, toads, lizards, etc.

Elephant ears give the garden a tropical vibe

Elephant ears give the garden a tropical vibe

On hunting trips in various parts of Texas, I have seen astoundingly beautiful birds, including roadrunners, Harris hawks, caracara, great horned owl, turkeys and, one memorable afternoon, even at least 20 red-bellied woodpeckers all at once deep in East Texas woods. Our dog Higgins, a.k.a. The Sage Leopard, has an amazing eye for spotting creatures (squirrels, of course). On one early morning walk, he floored me by guiding me toward the sound of a great-horned owl. It was at least a quarter-mile from where we had originally been standing and Higgins pulled me in the right direction. When we drew close, or about 50 yards away, he nudged my sight line upward by pointing with his snout. There, on a power line pole, was the perfect silhouette of the owl. Another time, we had a great-horned owl hanging out in the trees behind the house for several nights and the hound was going bonkers. I was just relieved the dog is big enough to not be lifted by an owl.

Echinacea flowers are very happy looking and attract butterflies.

Echinacea flowers are very happy looking and attract butterflies.

Higgins loves the garden just as much, if not more, than his human. He runs around and round the garden beds and sniffs plants. He watches butterflies, doves and mockingbirds. For some reason, he won’t chase the black birds. He likes to walk the parameter, guarding his domain and checking on his favorites, including lantana and echinacea. To keep the butterflies coming, my boyfriend planted a bed exclusively devoted to milkweed. The milkweed actually hides the air conditioning unit, which hums softly near the mimosa tree. The mimosa grew to create a gentle canopy, keeping that corner of the yard in its sweet embrace.

Go outside and admire at least one flower before the sun goes down.

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

Springtime renewal, inside & out

Spring is the time to celebrate the return of things we love, such as bluebonnets in Texas, as well as a good time to try something new.

Leaves emerging for the first time on a young tulip magnolia

Leaves emerging for the first time on a young tulip magnolia

This weekend we enjoyed two new things: leaves on the tulip magnolia we planted last fall, and homemade red lentil curry dahl. We also enjoyed the return of bluebonnets and citrus blossoms in our garden.

The bluebonnet is the Texas state flower and makes its return each spring

The bluebonnet is the Texas state flower and makes its return each spring

Some things renew on their own. Here come the elephant ears, without prompting. A friend was once so overwhelmed by her elephant ears that she yanked a bunch out by the roots and put them in a huge bucket, which she left on our front porch. We were out of town and did not immediately attend to the bucket when we got back. Eventually, we planted them. They not only made it after the transplanting, they thrived. Then, they took over some beds. I yanked a bunch, and yet, a couple of years later, here they come again.

There are other things that need help. The caterpillars that will become Monach butterflies showed up and ate just about all the milkweed that had started to grow back. We rushed out to a nursery that fortunately was carrying milkweed and bought several little plants. As soon as they were in the ground, the caterpillars converged. We counted several.

Tomatoes are not something we lucked out on last year, our first attempt with tomatoes. For Valentine’s Day, we placed two tomato plants in the vegetable bed, fertilized them and crossed our fingers. Each one now has a tiny tomato growing, which bodes well.

The veggie bed is in the side yard with citrus trees. It all started with a mystery shrub, or so it appeared. Eventually, the plant emerged as an impressive Meyer lemon tree.

Meyer lemons can be consumed when green or yellow

Meyer lemons can be consumed when green or yellow

It became so prolific over recent years that we took to freezing the juice. Not too long ago a heavy rain came while it was overloaded with lemons and tree was uprooted, undermined by floodwater and its own weight. We had only been picking a few lemons at a time to have fresh ones in the kitchen. Live and learn. My boyfriend cut off several broken limbs and righted the tree’s trunk with a pitchfork as a temporary brace. I’m happy to report the tree survived and is growing again. Looking back, the amount of lemons I harvested from the broken limbs was comical. The neighbors all got some and there still is some of that juice in the freezer.

Meyer lemon harvest

Meyer lemon harvest

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Grapefruit blossom

We liked the lemon tree so much that we added a Satsuma, a grapefruit and a lime tree. The grapefruit tree was a slow grower, but amazingly started reaching skyward once we planted a more robust companion grapefruit tree a couple of yards away. Both are blossoming, literally.

To wrap up the weekend, we ate a traditional Sunday dinner with pasta and meatballs cooked in tomato sauce. Some people call this Sunday sauce. My grandmother called it tomato gravy.

Meatballs cooking through in tomato sauce after browning

Meatballs cooking through in tomato sauce after browning

She would serve the meat separate from the pasta, with the meat accompanied by Boston lettuce salad. The pasta was served in bowls, the lettuce on salad plates and the meat on the entree plate. Not sure what she would make of us eating the meatballs in the pasta bowls while sitting on the couch watching TV. This dish is a family tradition and brings much comfort. The other night I tried something completely new to us, at least at home: dalh. I had bought a lot of bags of dried legumes, including green and red lentils. An internet search led me to a recipe for red lentil curry dahl. I’ve made many curries before and ad libbed some as well, so I wasn’t intimidated.

Red lentil dahl with red curry

Red lentil dahl with red curry

The ginger and red curry combine so well it’s no wonder how popular the combination is. We liked it so much, I have a feeling that this dish may become as much as a staple around here as the meatballs.

The Sage Leopard

Quality Time is a Step Away, Online or Outside

Am I the only one who uses Pinterest for therapy? A friend told me she doesn’t have any hobbies to pin and therefore doesn’t really get the platform. I explained you can just pick categories of things that make you happy, label them as boards and pin to them. My categories include cooking & baking, gardening ideas, “Jeeps for Keeps,” decor, and “Higgins,” which is a collection of beautiful dog pictures that remind me of The Sage Leopard.

Ladybug landing

Ladybug landing

A new patio tomato plant awaits true springtime

A new patio tomato plant awaits true springtime

During a particularly stressful time a couple of years ago, I would find myself scrolling through Pinterest during my lunch break and getting little dopamine surges when coming across things I loved: Lilly Pulitzer prints, cute dogs, cool Jeeps, etc. To be sure, these scrolling excursions were virtual and represented vicarious enjoyment, e.g., ooh, how much fun it would be to drive that Jeep. Or that one, etc.

I love Pinterest, but an even more satisfying way to bring on the dopamine is to step outside. Think about how much your perspective changes after walking the dog around the block. Or, stepping out to clip some herbs. I feel an amazing satisfaction just from placing a cherry tomato plant on the patio.

Moon rising over palm tree

Moon rising over palm tree

Armadillo guarding planter with sage (and basil seedlings)

Armadillo guarding planter with sage (and basil seedlings)

Recently, I was heading out for a girls’ night and still felt a little tense from the work day. I stepped outside into the garden to play with The Sage Leopard. In short order, a ladybug landed on me. I looked up to notice the moon rising. Awash in a newly restored calm, I headed back toward the house and found myself smiling at an armadillo, who reminded me how Texas changed me.

The Sage Leopard

 

Stave off Wintertime Blues by Keeping Things Green

The Sage Leopard is very lucky to enjoy a big backyard that is home to herbs, citrus trees and native and drought tolerate plants, including Texas Sage and lantana. In southeast Texas, we are either inundated with rains or suffering in drought conditions. All the while, my cooking sage thrives in the garden, rain or shine.

gathering up the sage

gathering up the sage

At a certain point, it will brown and shrivel. I recently received an herb keeper as a gift, which is like an ice cube tray but made of silicone instead of hard plastic. I gathered up the sage from its pot on the patio to keep as much as possible. I washed and dried it, then chopped it with herb scissors. I placed about two tablespoons per cube in four cubes of the tray. This being the inaugural use of the herb tray, I opted to fill two of the sage-laden cubes with olive oil and the remaining two with melted butter. Into the freezer the tray went, resting on top of an ice cube tray with frozen Chardonnay (leftover from a Labor Day beach weekend box o’ wine) and next to our stash of Meyer lemon juice. We have a Meyer lemon tree that provides a prolific amount of juice. choppedsageAs for the olive oil in the herb tray, I used the basic one for cooking, not the high-end one for salads. Sage is a powerful herb for cooking and should be used in relatively small amounts compared to basil and parsley. It also needs to be received by a food strong enough to stand up to it, such as a pork loin roast. Another wonderful companion for sage are butter beans. I start by sautéing thinly sliced garlic in a saucepan with a little butter and olive oil. I fold in some sliced sage and make sure it is fully moistened. Meanwhile, open a can of butter beans and empty them into a colander in the sink to give them a nice rinse.

The Sage Leopard sits while dove watching with sage pot on patio in foreground

The Sage Leopard sits while dove watching with sage pot on patio in foreground

Place the washed beans in the saucepan, add salt and pepper, stir, cover and cook on low about 10 minutes. For a roast, place the sage and butter (or oil) with garlic in a Dutch over and sauté. Add the meat, browning on add sides on the stovetop before placing in the oven to roast. Now that I have preserved ready-to-go sage cooking cubes in the freezer, I am really prepared for at least four lovely sage dishes this winter. Plus, by cutting back the sage plant a lot, I have likely ensured that the plant will fully regrow with many more sage leaves.